Jan 8, 2023

We Made A Movie (or: Welcome To My Torment)

Right before the holidays we made a film.

We wanted to do something special at USV's year-end event to celebrate a milestone. We asked friends of the firm to record videos marking the event. These would be simply strung together to watch.

When the videos started arriving five days before the event, we realized we were about to sit through something like a wedding video on an oversized TV at a family gathering.

Help: we needed a reset, immediately.

A movie, like a tapestry, wanted to be woven from these raw materials. Yet, we didn't know how to begin the process of filmmaking. Let's go. The five-day sprint that ensued was like a last-ditch effort to catch a moving train.

Step one: cobble together a patchwork of cloud tools to upload and store the videos. Step two: learn, quickly, how to edit. Step two was more daunting. In a moment of something between howling desperation and creative inspiration, we recalled the class of new intelligent creative tools (yes, powered by AI) that provide text-to-edit and other "magic" edit functionality (RunwayML, Descript). We dove in eyes closed head first full hearts.

No tutorials, there wasn’t time. Learn by doing. The tools were the key, the elixir that enabled the blank canvas to look less intimidating; to turn thoughts and ideas into output and expressions, almost instantaneously.

We uploaded. Cut and pasted video. Inserted fade-ins and fade-outs. Added music and audio for format diversity. Spliced in movie clips (Casablanca, History of the World Part I, Swingers) to break up the talking heads. Found a perfect ending song; maybe it wasn't. Yes it was.

From an hour of raw material, we ended up with a five-minute short “film.”

It was grueling, demanding and degrading. Also invigorating. Above all else: all-consuming. Waking up at 3 am to jot down ideas. Executing those ideas at 6 am. Changing your mind at 10 am and removing them. Reverting back to the idea the next day at 6 am. And so on, each day, for those five days. Time evaporated like water on a stovetop. On three separate occasions we declared pencils down. Finished. But, more adding and subtracting. Just one more edit.

Hours before showtime, the moment of truth arrived. Time had run out, the event was starting, and there was no choice but to be done, like the landing of a jet (or the crashing of a jalopy).

On the final day, each time I viewed the film I flipped between loving it . . . and hating it. Extremes: the love was intense; the embarrassment was debilitating, like sharp icicles in my chest. Was this an act of creativity or a foolish mission by an amateur poseur? “Is this good?” we kept asking ourselves.

I reached out to a filmmaker and texted:

“When you finish a project, do you ever look at it and think, ‘this is the worst thing ever created?’ ”

“Welcome to my torment” he replied.

The thing is, it's clear that this wasn't about making a good film. As I look back on it - though I can't bear to watch it again - this was about a blank page. Kerouac once wrote “The page is long, blank, and full of truth. When I am through with it, it shall probably be long, full, and empty with words.”

The words - or paint, or sound, or moving images - are only a conduit for meaning, but may never be the meaning itself. The question thus becomes: how fast can you get to the conduit, to fill the blank canvas?

Technology facilitates this. Accelerates too. Reduces the lifetime that exists between thought and expression, the shadow between idea and reality. Even with the torment.

I can’t wait to do this again

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